McAdam: Bard's slump aside, Sox need Papelbon

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McAdam: Bard's slump aside, Sox need Papelbon

By Sean McAdam
CSNNE.com Red Sox Insider Follow @sean_mcadam
BOSTON -- On Wednesday, for the third time in the last week, Daniel Bard lost a game in the late innings for the Red Sox. The 5-4 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays, like the two games before it, was clearly a costly one for the Sox.

Had Bard locked down the 4-2 lead with which he was entrusted in the eighth, the Sox would sport a five-game lead over the Tampa Bay Rays, rather the four-game edge they currently maintain.

For that matter, had Bard performed against the Toronto Blue Jays last Wednesday, Tim Wakefield would have earned his 200th career victory six days earlier. And had he not surrendered the 10th-inning base hit to Evan Longoria three days later -- the game was tied at the time after the Red Sox pulled even with two ninth-inning homers -- the Sox perhaps would not have been swept at Tropicana Field.

Either way, they would have been closer to the front-running Yankees and safely distant from the hard-charging Rays.

Resolved, then: Bard's had a bad week, In the bigger picture, he's had a disappointing month. His slump has been almost as puzzling as the reaction the slump has generated.

Some have taken this relatively small sample size -- four poor outings since Sept. 1 -- and used it as evidence that Bard is ill-suited to become the Red Sox' closer of the future, in turn necessitating the re-signing of Jonathan Papelbon.

Those people have it only half-right.

The Red Sox should re-sign Papelbon this offseason. Their motivation, however, has nothing to do with projecting Bard as his replacement.

Instead, the Red Sox should view the two as a tandem, two equally essential parts to late-inning success.

"I'm nothing without him,'' asserted Jonathan Papelbon Thursday, "and he's nothing without me."

Papelbon's logic is unassailable. The Sox desperately need Bard to get them to Papelbon and the ninth. And they need Papelbon to be the last line of defense when a late-inning lead -- and by extension, the game itself -- is one the line.

To suggest that the last handful of outings are some sort of proof Bard can't handle the pressure is absurd. Where were Bard's lack of nerves when he was stranding 29-of-32 baserunners into late August?

Bard's role as the primary set-up man is, in some significant ways, far more difficult than Papelbon's. While Papelbon usually enters a clean inning with no outs and no baserunners and often has to protect a lead of two or three runs, Bard frequently is called upon to clean up someone else's mess.

It's a role he's filled expertly -- until the last two weeks. Papelbon would have anywhere near the number of save opportunities he's had without Bard clearing the dreck in the seventh or eighth innings.

Laugh if you must at the "hold'' stat -- in the age of advanced metrics, it's hopelessly inadequate. But think of holds as the set-up version of a save: occasionally misleading and open to interpretation, but mostly meaningful.

If closers are ultimately judged by the number of times they successfully preserve a lead (measured in saves), then set-up men are similarly charged with maintaining the lead they've been given (measures in holds).

And on the matter of holds, Bard is second in the league. He's also the only Red Sox reliever since 1969 to have two seasons of 31 or more holds. Bard set the franchise record with 32 in 2010. Even with his recent struggles, he has the second-best WHIP among qualifying American League relievers.

The last two weeks excepting, Bard does his job so well that it would be ludicrous to ask him to do anything else. And having him replace Papelbon would be doubly ludicrous, since it would mean that the Sox would then need someone to replace Bard himself.

Those high-leverage innings are more diffucult to navigate than many save situations.

Conversely, until a pitcher has successfully walked the ninth-inning tightrope, then it can't automatically be assumed that Bard can necessarily do Papelbon's job. Recent baseball history is littered with guys who thrive in the seventh or eighth, but stumble in the ninth. (And a good morning to you, Mike Timlin).

That's why the answer isn't for the Red Sox to allow Papelbon to leave while slipping Bard into the closer's spot. Instead, the Sox should extend Papelbon -- either through arbitration for what surely would be a record award for a relief pitcher, or in a two- or three-year deal that would reward Papelbon with a better AAV (average annual value) in excess of his current 12 mullion.

Such a contract would enable Papelbon to boast of his salary standard-setting status, while protecting the Red Sox from the vagaries of long-term contracts for over-30 closers.

The notion that Bard's recent run of blown saves is indicative of some character flaw, and not what it so obviously is -- nothing more than a bad stretch -- is laughable. When Papelbon led the A.L. in blown saves last year,it didn't prevent him from returning this year and enjoying his best season since 2008.

Retaining Papelbon is critical, of course, but not because the Red Sox lack options at closer for 2012, but rather, because it would give them the best of both worlds in the bullpen.

Sean McAdam can be reached at smcadam@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Sean on Twitter at http:twitter.comsean_mcadam

McAdam: Red Sox relievers didn’t do the job vs. Toronto

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McAdam: Red Sox relievers didn’t do the job vs. Toronto

Sean McAdam joins SNC to discuss the Red Sox bullpen giving up a 4-run lead in the late innings of their loss to the Blue Jays.

Watch the video above.

Three things we learned from the Red Sox’ 10-9 loss to the Blue Jays

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Three things we learned from the Red Sox’ 10-9 loss to the Blue Jays

Three things we learned from the Boston Red Sox’ 10-9 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays…

1) Toronto’s offense can never be taken lightly.

Coming into the series, the Blue Jays had scored 197 runs, putting them in the middle of the pack among all Major League teams and averaging four runs per game. In the two games against Boston, they’ve scored 17 runs.

So an offense that had appeared to be dormant has been woken up thanks to some subpar Red Sox pitching.

It seems like these two teams are very similar and could be in opposite positions just as easily. The Blue Jays are only three behind in the win column (five in the loss), so Boston needs to win David Price’s Sunday start to widen the gap and cut their three-game skid.

2) Craig Kimbrel is only effective for so long.

Boston’s closer wasn’t giving excuses following Saturday’s game -- and this isn’t one either.

Saturday’s 39-pitch performance wasn’t just his season-high, but his career high in pitches.

This not only resulted in a drop in Kimbrel’s velocity, but it exposed flaws in the Red Sox’ pen. Kimbrel is truly a one-inning guy, so if Junichi Tazawa and Koji Uehara can’t get him the ball, he’s useless.

And it seems like Uehara won’t be used on back-to-back days frequently in the near future, so Boston won’t be able to use Tazawa in a seventh inning role with much consistency.

Somewhere along the way Dave Dombrowski will need to find another reliever for the back-end of the bullpen.

3) Offense can only take a team so far.

Both teams had big offensive days, in large part because pitchers from both sides made a lot of mistakes -- but they still took advantage of them.

Had the Red Sox been the home team in this contest, there’s no reason to believe they wouldn’t have won -- just based on the progression of the game and ignoring any statistical splits.

If the Red Sox are serious about making the postseason, they need pitching to pick up the slack once in a while. Because when they hit the road late in the year, games like will slip away when quality pitching is lacking.

Quotes, notes and stars: 'Unfortunate situation at a key moment'

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Quotes, notes and stars: 'Unfortunate situation at a key moment'

Quotes, notes and stars from the Red Sox’ 10-9 loss to the Blue Jays:
 
QUOTES
*“We’ve seen Hanley [Ramirez] catch that ball multiple times...An unfortunate situation at a key moment.” John Farrell said of the final play of the game.
 
*As soon as I let it go I thought he was out...I feel like that game kind of slipped away from us.” -Travis Shaw said of his throw in the final play of the game.
 
*“Everybody was so excited on the bench. We’d lost the lead and to have him come through in that situation . . . It was huge.” -Hanley Ramirez on David Ortiz’s go-ahead homerun in the ninth inning.
 
*“We’re a strike away on a number of occasions . . . you watch the attack plan all day long right-handers with curveballs were having success against [Justin] Smoak.” -Farrell said of the bullpen’s performance and Smoak’s ninth inning hit off Craig Kimbrel.
 
*“If he makes an accurate throw he’s out.” -Farrell on Christian Vazquez’s errant throw in the ninth inning.
 
*“In some key spots we gave an extra 90 feet when otherwise we have not of late.” -Farrell said about Boston’s inability to execute late in the game.

NOTES
*Xander Bogaerts has hit safely in his last 21 games, extending his streak with a home run to lead off the fourth inning. He’s hitting .402 with five home runs during the streak. Bogaerts logged his ninth three-hit game of 2016.
 
* Dustin Pedroia extended his hitting streak to five games with his first-inning double. Pedroia has also hit safely in his past 22 games against Toronto. He’s hitting .444 during the short streak.
 
*David Ortiz extended his own hitting streak to six games with a double in the fourth. He's hitting .520 over that span.
 
* Russell Martin logged his fifth multi-hit game of the season -- and first three-hit game -- smacking a double and a home run. Martin entered the game batting .179 with three extra-base hits.
 
 
STARS
1) Russell Martin

Not only did he score the winning run, but he also tied the score in the ninth and launched a home run earlier in the game.
 
2) Xander Bogaerts
Another threre-hit performance, extending his hitting streak to 21 games, Bogaerts keeps creating headaches for opposing pitchers.
 
3) Rick Porcello
On a day where pitchers from both side scuffled, Porcello’s 6 2/3-inning effort gave Boston more than enough of a chance to win.